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How life insurance rates are determined

Read the Spanish version: ¿Cómo se determinan las primas del seguro de vida?

Top 10 health conditions that will affect your life insurance rating

1. High blood pressure

2. High cholesterol

3. Depression

4. Asthma

5. Type 2 (adult onset) diabetes

6. Sleep apnea

7. Cancer (except skin cancer)

8. Heart disease

9. Coronary artery disease

10. Mitral valve prolapse

When you're getting life insurance quotes, your premiums will be set in part by your “risk class,” which is defined by an insurer’s “underwriting guidelines.” (Your policy amount and length are the other pricing factors.) The better your risk class, the lower your premiums will be.

Your ability to find affordable life insurance will be based on your life expectancy and risk factors. Underwriters will look at your income and lifestyle, medical history and overall health, your family's medical history and any hazardous recreational sports or occupations.

Illnesses suffered by your family members after age 60 shouldn’t affect your premiums.

Some life insurers are more “aggressive” in determining your risk class, and may put you in a more preferred class (meaning lower premiums) than another company would. For example, someone with a history of high blood pressure who’s on medication for it might land in a “preferred class” with one life insurer and a “standard class” with another. Shopping around for quotes from multiple companies will really pay off, no matter what your health status.

Generally life insurance companies use these classes:

  • Preferred Plus No Nicotine (sometimes called Preferred Best or Super Preferred)
  • Preferred No Nicotine
  • Preferred Nicotine
  • Standard No Nicotine
  • Standard Nicotine
  • Substandard

Life insurance rates and classifications

Predicting which class you probably fall into is important for receiving an accurate life insurance quote, especially when you’re shopping online. It may be tempting to select the “preferred plus” class for yourself in order to see the lowest rates, but don’t set yourself up for disappointment if you don’t receive that rating.

Conditions that could possibly make you "uninsurable"

Abdominal aortic aneurysm (within past 6 months)

Alcoholism treatment (past 2 years, using or used in the last year)

Alzheimer's disease/dementia (at any time)

Bankruptcy (not discharged)

Cancer treated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy (present)

Cirrhosis of the liver (at any time)

Illegal drug use other than marijuana (within 3 years)

DUI/DWI (several, within 5 years)

Gastric/intestinal bypass (within 1 year)

Heart attack (within 6 months)

Heart bypass surgery (within 3 months)

HIV positive (at any time)

Kidney failure/disease, on dialysis (present)

Lung disorder, on oxygen (present)

Mental disorder requiring hospitalization (within 1 year)

Organ transplant pending or received (within 1 year)

Probation/parole (currently serving)

Pregnancy with complications (currently)

Suicide attempt (within 2 years)

Stroke (within 1 year)

Valve replacement (within 1 year)

Source: Genworth Financial Life Insurance Underwriting Guide

Life insurance companies generally require that you undergo a medical exam and allow them to request your medical records.

They'll also want to know if you use nicotine. Keep in mind that nicotine usage does not only refer to cigarette smoking, but also to nicotine patches, nicotine gum and smokeless tobacco — anything that puts nicotine into your bloodstream. Occasional cigar smoking does not count if you smoke 12 or less per year.

While every life insurance company has its own guidelines for requirements for the above classes, here are some predictors:

Preferred Plus, No Nicotine

It’s possible to be in good health and still not qualify for Preferred Plus. This category carries very stringent health qualifications and is reserved for folks who are expected to live the longest.

Here is the ideal candidate for the Preferred Plus No Nicotine class:

  • You are the ideal weight for your height, with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of roughly 25 or less.
  • You have an excellent health history with no serious or chronic illnesses or ailments.
  • Your immediate family has no history of cardiovascular disease or internal cancer before the age of 60.
  • You’ve never smoked, or if you have you’ve quit for at least five years.
  • You don't participate in high-risk recreational or occupational activities such as hang gliding, rock climbing, motorized racing, offshore drilling, mining, etc.
  • Your recent financial standing is excellent with no bankruptcy in the last few years.
  • You have a healthy LDL cholesterol level (about 220 or less) and LDL/HDL ratio (about 5.0 or less).
  • You have good average blood pressure readings of 140/85 or less.
  • You have a very clean driving record with no more than one or two moving violations in the last three years and no DUIs or reckless-driving convictions in the last 5 or more years
  • You’ve never required treatment for drug or alcohol abuse.

If you can’t meet all the above requirements, don’t worry. Most folks can’t, and there are still plenty of good life insurance rates out there.

While life insurers each produce their own lists of “allowable” conditions, one well-known life insurer that we looked at allows these conditions in rate classes below Preferred Plus:

Preferred, No Nicotine

  • Elevated blood pressure of about 145/90 or less
  • LDL Cholesterol of 260 and LDL/HDL ratio of 5.5

Select, No Nicotine

  • Elevated blood pressure of about 150/92 or less
  • LDL Cholesterol of 270 and LDL/HDL ratio of 6.5

Standard, No Nicotine

  • Elevated blood pressure of about 150/95 or less
  • LDL Cholesterol of 300 and LDL/HDL ratio of 7.9
  • Asthma acceptable
  • Depression acceptable

Knowing that these factors affect your life insurance rates will reduce surprises in your insurance shopping experience. Also, a good insurance agent will know which companies have better pricing for certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure. If you still fall into a pricier category than you anticipated, you can buy a policy and then ask the life insurance company to re-examine your rate if your health has improved for at least one full year.

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